Generation 40s – 四十世代

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Fears of Chinese infiltration on US campuses reveal the closing of the American mind

CommentInsight & Opinion

Tom Plate says the targeting of Confucius Institutes in the US as potentially subversive threats shows how little many Americans know about China, and even about their own universities – where differences of opinion are gradually disappearing

Simplistic judgment is a common malady from which academics and intellectuals, alas, seem no more immune than politicians. In Texas, a “red scare” has whipped up like a prairie storm: a pair of congressmen, expressing unctuous concern, are pressuring local universities to cut formal educational links with China, in particular its Confucius Institutes. They have told state officials of worries about “communist government influence on your campus”.

Confucius Institutes are funded by the Chinese government for the announced purpose of offering free instruction to foreign students in the Chinese language and Confucian philosophy in their country. On the whole, they amount to a helpful addition to foreign-language curricula and are no more subversive than branches of US universities in China.

Even so, Texas A&M University wilted in the hot-air windstorm, and it was not the first. It followed opt-outs at the University of Chicago and Pennsylvania State University. Chancellor John Sharp explained why he followed the recommendation of Republican Congressmen Michael McCaul and Democrat Henry Cuellar this way: “They have access to classified information we do not have. We are terminating the contract [with China] as they suggested.” Other universities, in and out of Texas, are reviewing their institutes.

Back in 2004, the University of Maryland took in the first Confucius Institute; their numbers have grown dramatically in the United States since then. They also train Chinese-language teachers and underwrite scholarly publications. As, ultimately, they are under China’s Ministry of Education, they can be somewhat likened to libraries operated overseas by the US Information Agency in their fealty to the home government. The paranoiac pair of Texas congressmen believe the effort is confusing students with pro-Chinese communist notions and other evil, subversive ideas.


Well, here is the scary story as some may imagine it, and it may stun many of you – though not Texans, of course: It is true that all Chinese citizens on the mainland are brainwashed to think exactly alike – born to be automatons. The way this is done is that many are hurriedly dunked, not minutes after birth, into a sort of MRI-like bath that somehow rewires normal DNA into a combative communist doublethink helix. Sort of like lobsters in a pot gradually being brought to boil, before they know it their brain is cooked, and they become food for commie thought. These secretly sautéed citizens comprise a phalanx of Confucius cadres – a clear and present menace to “free” society.

What infantilism! American universities need to rise above this nonsense. One major institution that, admirably, has kept its poise is the University of California at Los Angeles, which has dismissed the Confucius Institute controversy with the sort of clear-headed self-confidence one expects from a great research university. Its formal review, headed by UCLA political scientist Mark Peterson, assessed its campus chapter as a valuable instrument of cultural diversity, not some nasty ideological submarine. UCLA students pointed out the folly of broad-brushing Chinese instructors and students as propaganda robots.

Chinese President Xi Jinping and Britain’s Prince Andrew unveil the Confucius Classroom at Hautlieu School in London in October 2015. More than 500 of the institutes, which are affiliated with the Ministry of Education, have opened around the world on six continents, but not without controversy. Photo: Xinhua

There’s another issue that needs to be addressed. It’s that the much-advertised binary contrast between America’s totally “open” society and totally “closed” China’s is overdrawn. How much orthodoxy in political instruction the Xi Jinping government will be formally requiring of its universities is as yet unclear (for any professor, of course, an inherent worry). But China’s intellectual validity is hardly confined to the campus.

China fields more think tanks than any other country aside from the US. Few wear ideological dunce caps and sit in a corner searching for hidden proletariat algorithms in the Little Red Book. The Lauder Institute of University of Pennsylvania rates nine of China’s think tanks as among the world’s 175 best. That estimate may be on the conservative side. America, with a fourth of China’s population, does have four times as many think tanks; and more great universities, though Tsinghua and Peking (and sometimes Fudan in Shanghai) make every credible global top 100 list.

For their part, US universities have their own set of problems. One is political homogeneity. As provocatively framed in the lead essay by philosopher John Gray in the current Times Literary Supplement, a high-level London review, there has been a creeping sterilisation of some Western universities “into institutions devoted to the eradication of thought crime”; where course reading materials are “routinely scrutinised” for material that “students might find discomforting”; where faculty members face “attempts to silence them or terminate their careers” when they challenge a prevailing campus consensus; and where invited guest lecturers wind up disinvited because “their views were deemed unspeakable”. Gray, until retirement a decade ago a professor of European thought at the London School of Economics, adds: “When students from China study in Western countries, one of the lessons they learn is that the enforcement in intellectual orthodoxy does not require an authoritarian government.”

What’s more, American ideology sweetly imagines the universal applicability of its “democratic” system – as if one size fits all. Leaving aside that at the moment our Trumpian iteration would prove a hard sell almost anywhere, it is fatuous to ignore the gradual shrinking of the West’s political mind – and not just in uptight Texas. “Liberticide” is the word John Stuart Mill used for the destruction of intellectual freedom that comes when everyone is required to hold the same view.

And so we must acknowledge that the political cultures of China and America are not as if Mars to Venus. Sensible citizens on both sides of the China-US divide know that ideological thinking will only deepen divisions – and misunderstandings. A superiority complex, on either side, is a good way to achieve bad results. Intellectual and political humility is wisest. Confucius was often right, Marx was not always wrong, East and West need to learn from – and respect – one another.

Columnist Tom Plate taught at UCLA for 15 years before joining Loyola Marymount University as its distinguished scholar of Asian and Pacific studies


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有些事情 再也回不去了


在往美國的學術會議的長途航班上,用大約兩程飛機的時間看完了李維基(Steven Levitsky)和薛比勒(Daniel Ziblatt)寫的《民主是怎麼死掉的》(How Democracies Die;這本書深入淺出,實在寫得太容易看了)。




但李、薛指出自喬治華盛頓開始,總統、國會內政黨和議員都自覺地自行約制,運用這些權力時不要過火,背後是民主價值、不成文的傳統、以至輿論和民意的制約——因為民主制度不單止是白紙黑字的條文,還包含什麼是「合適行為」(appropriate behavior)的理解,這些理解都建基於互相包容和制度性的忍讓(mutual toleration and institutional forbearance);因為大家都理解不同黨派和政見都是民主制度的重要構成部分,「山水有相逢」,不能當對方是真正敵人、只想將對方殲滅。


制度運作 要很多成員小心維持



不少政治矛盾 來自把權用盡







棒子一打 總有各色人等協助附和



延伸閱讀:Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt, How Democracies Die: What History Reveals About Our Future(United Kingdom: Viking, 2017).

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Post-war buildings deserve a place in Hong Kong’s architectural history

CommentInsight & Opinion
Ho Puay-peng says the lack of protection for the iconic Garden Company headquarters, and many other examples of the city’s landmark architecture from the post-war era, points to a gap in our conservation efforts that should be plugged before it’s too late

This month, the Antiquities Advisory Board announced that it is proposing a Grade 2 historic building status for the headquarters of the Garden Company in Sham Shui Po. Since a Grade 2 status is awarded to buildings of “special merit” that should be “selectively” preserved, we can be sure that the decision means the modernist landmark is now set to meet the wrecking ball.

Distinguished by a handsome clock tower and the clean, bold lines that epitomise mid-20th century aesthetics, the building’s owner had earlier applied to redevelop it into a 25-storey commercial and office tower. While it is no legal protection from demolition, a Grade 1 rating would, at least, have enabled the government to discuss preservation options with the owner.

The iconic 1950s building was originally designed to be the factory for the well-known Garden bread and confectionery brand. It has been denied a higher grading because the Antiquities and Monuments Office dismissed its architecture as functional, hence ordinary.

Such misguided remarks about landmark post-war architecture are nothing new – they have been heard before in the grading debates over the Shaw Studio compound and North Point’s State Theatre – but they do highlight systemic weaknesses in the protection of these precious buildings.

Of the 1,085 historic buildings graded by the board, fewer than 90 are post-war buildings. There are two main reasons for this underrepresentation of built heritage from the second half of the 20th century. First, nearly 90 per cent of the graded buildings come from a territory-wide survey of 1,444 buildings built before 1950. Second, there is a certain institutional perception that post-war buildings are not of “heritage age” and that many of them are too utilitarian in design or commonplace in appearance.

However, architecture of every style always speaks to the spirit of their times. In the case of landmark post-war architecture, buildings from schools, hospitals and churches to public housing, offices and factories were designed for mass use. Put together, these cornerstones of everyday life built modern Hong Kong society. Yet, despite their heritage value, and that they are often in sound condition, an increasing number of these buildings are facing a cull.

With just three months of 2018 gone, the Union Church on Kennedy Road, an understated modernist gem, has been reduced to rubble. Over in Kowloon Tong, the brutalist AC Hall in Baptist University could also be meeting the bulldozers as part of a campus redevelopment, despite its role as a cradle of many a Canto-pop superstar in the early 1980s. Similarly, there appears to be no place for the General Post Office in the upcoming Central Harbourfront development.

Landmark post-war architecture is fundamental to Hong Kong’s eclectic cityscape and the government should strengthen its protection.

As a start, the Development Bureau, under which heritage conservation falls, should order a survey of buildings and sites completed between 1950 and 1970 to identify, assess and grade those worthy of protection. In countries such as Japan, Australia and Britain, the public is encouraged to nominate sites for consideration, which also helps foster a sense of belonging. However, there is a lack of such public participation in Hong Kong. This should change.

In relation, a set of evaluation guidelines specifically for post-war architecture has to be drawn up. Besides recognising excellence in style and design quality, another way of reading the importance of a building is to locate its relationship with similar landmarks. A contemporary of the former Central Government Offices, the Garden factory might have later influenced City Hall’s form and this gives it a place in the evolution of modernist architecture in Hong Kong.

Furthermore, the Garden factory has a rarity factor because it is one of the few buildings by Chu Pin still left in Hong Kong today. As one of the so-called “first-generation” Chinese architects to study abroad, Chu co-founded the premier Chinese architectural firm in Tianjin and Shanghai in the 1920s. He also designed the now-demolished original Man Yee Building in Central, which was the first building to have escalators in Hong Kong.

The preservation of privately owned historic buildings has long been a huge challenge in Hong Kong.

Back in 2014, the Development Bureau released a 203-page consultancy study on the heritage conservation regimes of eight overseas jurisdictions. However, there has been no visible movement on the report’s many recommendations.

While it may be a tall order to arm the historic buildings grading system with legal teeth, because of the vast array of interests that need to be balanced, the government should once again consult the report and improve incentives to private property owners to keep their historic buildings.

As shown by the recent transformation of the Murray Building from a 1960s government office block into a hotel – this is an excellent project initiated by the Development Bureau – modernist architecture often offers great adaptive reuse potential.

All over the world, heritage buildings from the most recent era are often most endangered. The Hong Kong government should recognise the value of the city’s landmark post-war architecture. Their loss will risk creating a black hole in our architectural history.

Professor Ho Puay-peng is head of the Department of Architecture in the National University of Singapore. He is a former member of Hong Kong’s Antiquities Advisory Board

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‘America first’ shouldn’t stop the US from welcoming Chinese students and other global talent

CommentInsight & Opinion

Vasilis Trigkas says US protectionism in the form of visa restrictions on Chinese seeking to study in American universities would only harm the country, which has long benefited from being able to attract top talent

Almost half a century after the “Nixon shock”, when US President Nixon unilaterally declared that the United States would abandon the dollar’s convertibility to gold and impose a 10 per cent import surcharge, the world is now being shaken by the “Trump shock”. While Nixon targeted the European and Japanese trade surpluses, this time, the epicentre of the president’s rage is China’s strategic protectionism, which compels US corporations to transfer technology in return for access to the world’s most populous market.

The US administration has gone to great lengths to quantify the damage that Chinese techno-protectionism has caused to American industry and puts the bill at more than US$60 billion per year – the value of Chinese imports that President Donald Trump chose to apply retaliatory tariffs on. While there are indeed reasonable concerns about China’s coercive treatment of US and European companies and its draconian market access regulations, the proclamation that China’s success is based on technology theft to the detriment of US society does not do justice to the genuine efforts of the Chinese people to modernise the country.

At the core of China’s accomplishments in science and technology have been hardworking students and researchers who studied in universities across the US. As President Jimmy Carter put it, recalling a classic incident characterising the US-China rapprochement of the late 70s: “One night, the phone rang about 3 o’clock in the morning, and I thought ‘Oh my, there’s a tragedy somewhere in the United States … It was my national science advisor. He said, ‘Deng Xiaoping insisted I call you now to see if you would permit 5,000 Chinese students to come to American universities.’ And I said, ‘Tell him to send a 100,000.’”

Since then, the number of Chinese students who attend US universities has risen exponentially, surpassing 320,000 in 2015-16. Undergraduate and postgraduate students are usually self-funded and contribute substantially to the revenues of American universities – income that is reflected in the US trade of services surplus with China. Those enrolled in doctoral programmes are usually sponsored by US-based foundations, but their selection is meritocratic and their contribution to US scientific excellence essential. US universities have long been leaders in cutting-edge research mostly due to their ability to attract the world’s brightest researchers, evaluate their work purely by its scientific merit and build a cosmopolitan community of scientists in their laboratories.

While many Chinese researchers in some of America’s most prestigious universities have chosen to stay in the US and work in Silicon Valley or pursue an academic career, others have returned to China, sharing ideas and knowledge with their compatriots. This transfer of knowledge and research methodology has been the catalyst for China’s meteoric rise in innovation and technology rankings. Some of the stellar science professors at Tsinghua University, which now ranks higher than MIT in computer science and engineering, according to the US News and World Report, have been US educated while others have been visiting researchers at top US research laboratories.

Still, economic nationalists could assert that the eventual repatriation of US-educated Chinese is proof of strategic myopia and that the US should limit student visas to Chinese researchers and intervene in the meritocratic selection of candidates by US universities – an action that is already being considered. Yet, such restrictions would inhibit the attraction of top talent to the US and undermine the nation’s innovative capacity. In addition, the US-educated repatriated Chinese have spent some of their most creative years living in a vibrant republic and, however patriotic and committed they are to their homeland, their appreciation for freedom could eventually become the catalyst for a peaceful transition to a more open and liberal political regime at home – an eventuality with enormous dividends for the US and the world.

Yan Xuetong, a professor at Tsinghua University, has asserted that the unfolding technological competition between the US and China will be determined by the quality of human talent that each side attracts. The US out-innovated both Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union, for it remained a beacon of liberty able to attract the world’s smartest people. If the US administration targets Chinese researchers and builds walls barring talent, by making H1B visas harder to obtain for example, it will undermine the vibrancy of the US economy, hindering its ability to innovate. Meanwhile, China has offered significant incentives to attract international scholars and is narrowing the human capital gap with the US.

People-to-people exchanges remain the most solid element empowering Sino-US relations, for people do not just transfer knowledge but also ideas and ideals crystallised into vivid memories of personal interactions. Cheng Li, a Brookings scholar and Chinese immigrant to the US, declared at a recent forum that if Sino-US people-to-people exchanges are harmed, there will be nothing left to prevent a new cold war. Initiatives such as “100,000 Strong”, which supports US students in China, should be pursued with bilateral support.

China and the US must not target researchers but instead empower them to flourish and share the fruits of their intellectual achievements with the world. As British historian Arnold Toybnee said: “We shall have to share out the fruits of technology among the whole of mankind. The notion that the direct and immediate producers of the fruits of technology have a proprietary right to these fruits will have to be forgotten.”

Vasilis Trigkas is an Onassis Scholar and research fellow in the Belt & Road Strategy Centre at Tsinghua University